Your Pet Questions Answered!

I’ve conned asked our vet to answer reader questions, so if you have a question about your pet, ask them here! We will do our best (and within applicable laws) to get you answers.

Dog Collar Sensitivity

It is natural for us to think that all dogs can wear a collar with no problems; however, some dogs are senstive about wearing a collar as well as letting anyone tug on it. Many dog bites occur because the act of grabbing the dogs collar or even wearing a lead startles the dog. Today we are going to work on desensitizing your dog to collar grabs. Got your treats? Let’s get started.

Pick a quiet place away from distractions to work with your dog.

Ask him to sit (if he knows that command) and give him several treats without touching him.

Next touch his head with one hand and give him a treat with the other.

Now, touch under his chin and reward with the other hand.

Continue touching and treating, gradually moving closer and closer to his collar.

Once your dog is comfortable with being rubbed around and under the collar, start moving the collar back and forth. You will want to work up in time to how long you can move the collar or grab at it.

Keep training sessions short, 5 minutes or so to keep both you and the dog comfortable.

If you have a non-aggressive puppy you can approach this in a different way by frequently interrupting play sessions by taking your puppy by the collar, asking him to sit, praising him, offering a treat, and then letting him go back to play.

Repeat this throughout the day, reaching for his collar faster and faster the more you practice.

Teach Your Dog to Speak On Command

Teaching your dog to speak is quite easy, especially if your dog already likes to bark when he gets excited. Armed with your dog’s favorite treats and maybe his favorite toy, we’re ready to begin.

You will want to start with your dog fairly close to you (after lots of practice you can do this from a distance). Give him the sit command. Hold up his treat so he can see it. Now in a happy excited tone, try to get him excited about the treat. You can say, “Do You Want This? Treats? Speak for Your Treat.” Out of frustration, he will eventually bark, and when he does, say, “Good Speak,” and give him the treat. Repeat.

See, how easy is that?!

Help! My dog has separation anxiety!

Dogs with separation anxiety have behavior problems when they are left alone. The most common of these behaviors are:

  • Digging, chewing, and scratching at doors or windows in an attempt to escape and reunite with their owners.
  • Howling, barking, and crying in an attempt to get their owner to return.
  • Urination and defecation (even with housetrained dogs) as a result of distress.

These behaviors occur as a panic response to being separated from their owners. Dogs with separation anxiety will take out their anxiety about being left alone on just about anything, including your furniture, bed, clothing — anything they can get their paws (and teeth) on.

If your dog already has unwanted separation behavior, training may be more difficult, but is worth the effort to correct. Many older dogs with separation anxiety were shelter dogs or strays at some point in their life. Up to half of these dogs will improve with training, but you may need to modify your routine to desensitize them to your leaving.

For a dog that has mild separation anxiety, it can be relieved by (according to HSUS):

  • Keep arrivals and departures low-key. For example, when you arrive home, ignore your dog for the first few minutes, then calmly pet him. This may be hard for you to do, but it’s important!
  • Leave your dog with an article of clothing that smells like you—such as an old t-shirt that you’ve slept in recently.
  • Establish a “safety cue”—a word or action that you use every time you leave that tells your dog you’ll be back. Dogs usually learn to associate certain cues with short absences by their owners. For example, when you take out the garbage, your dog knows you come right back and doesn’t become anxious. Therefore, it’s helpful to associate a safety cue with your short-duration absences.Some examples of safety cues are a playing radio, a playing television, or a toy (one that doesn’t have dangerous fillings and can’t be torn into pieces). Use your safety cue during practice sessions with your dog. Be sure to avoid presenting your dog with the safety cue when you leave for a period of time longer than he can tolerate; if you do, the value of the safety cue will be lost. Leaving a radio on to provide company for your dog isn’t particularly useful by itself, but a playing radio may work if you’ve used it consistently as a safety cue in your practice sessions. If your dog engages in destructive chewing as part of his separation distress, offering him a chewing item as a safety cue is a good idea. Very hard rubber toys that can be stuffed with treats and Nylabone®-like products are good choices.

If your dog has more severe separation anxiety you can desensitize him by:

  • Do your usual leaving routine. Put on your jacket and pick up your keys. Then, put your keys down and take your jacket off. Go and sit down. Ignore the dog for a few minutes then calmly pat him. Repeat this process until he ignores your leaving cues.
  • Next, repeat the same process, put on your jacket and grab your keys. Go to the door. Open it, then close it. Put your keys down and take your jacket off. Ignore the dog for a few minutes and the calmly pat him. Do this until he is calm when you go to the door.
  • Now do the same process again, this time step through the door, close it, then open it and walk back in. Do the same as before. When your dog is comfortable with this step move on to the next.
  • From now on, each time you walk out and close the door, wait a bit longer each time until you can leave for short periods of time without the dog becoming distressed. It is a long process, but it will be worth the effort when your dog is able to stay alone and not destroy your furniture.

Another thing you can do to reinforce this desensitization is to teach your dog “sit-stay” or “down-stay.” Doing this will allow you to leave your dog’s sight while he sits or lays happily until you return. To do this, you gradually increase the distance you move away from your dog. As you progress, you can do this during the course of your normal daily activities.

Because the treatments described above can take a while, and because a dog with separation anxiety can do serious damage to himself and/or your home in the interim, consider these suggestions to help you and your dog cope in the short term (HSUS):

  • Consult your veterinarian about the possibility of drug therapy. A good anti-anxiety drug should not sedate your dog, but simply reduce his anxiety while you’re gone. Such medication is a temporary measure and should be used in conjunction with behavior modification techniques.
  • Take your dog to a dog day care facility or boarding kennel.
  • Leave your dog with a friend, family member, or neighbor.
  • Take your dog to work with you, even for half a day, if possible.

Running Dog, Treadmill Hog

We all live hectic lives and having pets can make it even more hectic, so what’s a busy pet owner to do? I have recently been seeing a lot of people using their treadmills to help beat doggie boredom and exercise them at the same time. We all know that daily exercise helps reduce dog behavior problems, but many of us find it hard to fit that in between life, work and kids too.

Teaching your dog to run on a treadmill can be a fun training experience for both of you if done properly. While there are treadmills specifically made for dogs, such as Jog A Dog, which are quite pricey, you really don’t need to shell out the money for a dog-specific treadmill. In fact, you can pick up one for just a little money (less than $400) at Wal-Mart, or if you really want to save money, pick one up at a garage sale. It doesn’t have to have all the bells and whistles, your dog doesn’t care if it’s MP3 compatible or not!

Now for training….I won’t go into it as this video shows a pretty good example.

And if you’re really, really motivated, you can teach your cat to do it too!


How to give your dog the boot

Your dog loves to go for rides, but he’s a holy terror when it comes to getting out of the car. Sound familiar? You stop the car, get ready to let the dog out and when you open the door, he’s off like a bullet into busy traffic with no need to listen or come back. What can you do to stop this?

Woman Driving with dogA car ride on top of a new place can make any dog excitable, so how do you control him? It really is pretty easy to keep Fido under control. There are a few things that you can do to make it easier to unload the dog.

The first thing you can do is to invest in a car seat or a car harness. These attach to your seat belt system and keep Fido secure while giving him the ability to move enough to lay down or look out the window. If you would like to confine your dog to the back area of your SUV, you can also invest in a vehicle barrier that will keep him from climbing in your lap while you are driving.

You also want to keep your dog’s leash on him while he is in the car. You don’t have to tie it to anything, but have it there so if he tries to make a quick get-away you can snatch the leash and take him under control.

Now, this time when you open the door, stand in front of it, blocking your dog. Do not let him out of the car until he focuses on you and is calm. When he has calmed down, step out of the way with leash in hand and say, “Let’s go.” This is his cue that he can exit the car. It is very important that you don’t let him out of the car until he calms down. He will learn that being calm gets him out into the world faster.

See, isn’t that easy!

Socializing an Older Dog

I would start with the basics. You want to desensitize him to touch first. This will allow you and others to easily groom him as well as brush his teeth and make it easy for you to check him for bumps, etc.

When you are doing this, you will want to have plenty of treats on hand as this will help him associate these things with something pleasant, food.

You’ll want to start by quietly touching him, like you’re going to brush him. When he behaves, praise him and reward him with a treat. Then you can add a brush, and do the same. When it comes to doing his teeth, you’ll want to first put a little doggy toothpaste on your finger then let him lick it off. Praise him and give him a treat. Repeat each day going a little farther until you can easily stick your fingers in his mouth and touch his teeth. Once you can do this for 30 seconds or so, add the toothbrush.

Once he’s ok being handled, you’ll want to get him used to other people. Start by inviting a couple of friends over. Keep the dog on a leash. Have your guests hand feed him his treats until he is relaxed around them. Repeat this process over and over, each time having different people come over. Eventually, he’ll look forward to people because it means treats!

Once he is used to people coming and going, it’s time to hit the streets. Take him for a walk on his leash, when you approach someone have him sit/stay. Allow the person to pass, then praise him and reward him for sitting quietly. Once he does this, try it with him walking by the person. If he barks, put him in a sit/stay. Once he has mastered walking with people around, it’s time to move on to other dogs.

You will want to start by allowing him to watch other dogs from a distance. When a dog comes into sight, give him a treat and keep giving him treats as long as the other dog is in view. (This goes back to the new visitors he learned before, new people = FOOD). If he barks or doesn’t want the treat, move farther away and try again. Keep repeating the process until you and your dog can approach another dog without barking.

Allow them to sniff. If someone gets aggressive, immediately turn with your dog and walk away. Repeat the approach process. This will be the most frustrating part, but it will eventually sink in that barking and fighting is a no-no.

If your dog is the opposite and tries to run away, stay positive and act like meeting the other dog is no big deal. Don’t pull him toward the other dog or talk soothing to him or even pet him. Doing this reinforces the fearful behavior. Only reward him when he starts to relax and explore what the other dog is all about. Let him approach things he’s scared of on his own terms.

With a lot of patience and love your dog will adapt.